Trenton Garvey Hell's Kitchen

HELL'S KITCHEN: Trenton © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC. Cr: Michael Becker / FOX.

The “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns” season is heating up, and a Union man is the chef to beat.

Trenton Garvey, 26, is one of five remaining contestants as the 20th season of “Hell’s Kitchen” winds down. The Fox show airs back-to-back episodes starting at 7 p.m. Monday, with two more episodes, including the season finale, airing on Sept. 13.

“They take the whole block of the night,” said Kylie Elliot, Fox publicity assistant.

The “Hell’s Kitchen” season was filmed in 2019 in Las Vegas, though the results have been kept secret from the public since then.

Garvey, executive chef at the Blue Duck in Maplewood, was the first chef this season to receive the prestigious black jacket from host Gordon Ramsay. The team portion of the show is now done, and the five black-jacket winners face off against one another to survive on the show.

Garvey earned the honor with the rack of lamb he prepared on Monday’s episode, the 12th of the season. After weeks of agonizing competition, Garvey said it is nice to be starting the final episodes on top. 

“It came out of left field for me,” Garvey said in a Wednesday phone interview. “As a chef, you sit there, and you break yourself down and say, ‘I shouldn’t have sliced the lamb as early as I did. I should have let it rest a little bit longer.’ You sit there, and you tear a dish apart in your head. So to have gotten that first black jacket, I feel like I really helped set the pace.”

Receiving the black jacket drew an excited reaction at the Blue Duck, where Garvey hosts watch parties for each episode. 

“When I got that black jacket, the whole building just erupted,” he said. “It was really amazing, the amount of support and how much people are into it.”

The parties have allowed Garvey to meet many people who follow the show, including die-hard “Hell’s Kitchen” fans, he said. Some have attended every week.

Garvey, a graduate of Union High School and the culinary program at East Central College, hasn’t been able to tell anyone about how he did on the show. So it was a relief when the world finally knew about the black jacket, he said.

“It’s something I’ve known and something I was really proud about personally, but I couldn’t talk about it,” he said. “When I finally got the opportunity to talk about that black jacket, it felt weird.”

Garvey has been able to keep the results secret for two years by just “living life” and focusing on his career as a chef, he said. “It was such a small part of why I do this,” he said. “I do this because I love it, and I want to constantly keep pushing me and my staff forward. The past isn’t as interesting as the future’s going to be.”

That means keeping his eye on “what’s next,” Garvey said. “What’s going to keep the people coming in?” he said. “Staying focused and working.”

The season began May 31 with 18 aspiring chefs ages 23 and younger at the time of filming, hence the “Young Guns” format. The winner will be named head chef at Gordon Ramsay Steak at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

Being on national television means getting recognized. Garvey said fans of the show approached him Wednesday in the Blue Duck’s parking lot. “Even this morning I walked into MotoMart and got a couple drinks before work, and they said, ‘You’re on “Hell’s Kitchen,” ’ ” he said. “It’s almost an everyday thing now. It’s really cool getting noticed.”

But the outreach the show gives Garvey is more important, he said. He recently was invited back to ECC’s culinary school, where he talked to the students. “I got this opportunity to do ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ I graduated three years prior,” he told the students. 

“I asked them, ‘Where do you see yourselves going in the next three or four years?’ Because I didn’t know where I was going to be, but to be here and get to have the experiences I’ve had is incredible,” he said.

Garvey told them he wasn’t the best student. “I was kind of a (expletive) head, but getting going, actually being in the kitchen and keeping my head down and working was what made it happen,” he said.

Chef Mike Palazzola, ECC’s culinary program coordinator, said he had an “epiphany” to have an alumnus come talk to students the first day of the new term and thought it would be great if it could be Garvey. Then, Garvey happened to call 20 minutes later and ask to speak to the class, which includes 18 new students and 10 returnees.

“He was able to talk with them and give them a little insight on what it was like to be on ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and work with Gordon and how coming to school here led to that,” Palazzola said.  “It was really great to get that kind of energy in front of my new students that first day because Trent is very passionate and loves cooking.”

Along with receiving the black jacket, Garvey puts his Blue Team getting to use a private hot tub on a hotel rooftop after winning a challenge among his favorite moments on the show. Then there was teammate Megan Gill, of Denton, Texas, correctly answering questions in another challenge. That meant Garvey was the only contestant from the Blue or Red teams who wasn’t doused with caramel or nacho cheese and chips.

“I was pretty excited about not getting caramel poured all over me,” he said. “Thanks to Megan, I had no part in that.”

Expect the show to get even more cutthroat as the black-jacket contestants go at it, Garvey said. Although he was the first chef to get the black jacket, Garvey emphasizes that everyone remaining has a 20 percent chance of winning.

“The stakes get even higher,” he said. “There’s nowhere to hide, and everybody is for themselves. It’s when the competition really gets tougher and heats up, and you have to take that next level and really focus on making it happen. There’s no time for bad days at this point.”

Not letting things go to his head has been a key for Garvey to stay around on the show.

“Stay focused, and don’t let all the little things add up,” he said. “Just go and cook.”

Garvey is a great representative of the ECC culinary program, which has seen its enrollment increase since his episodes started airing, Palazzola said. He also shows what graduates can achieve through hard work.

“I think, at the end of the day, you can have all the knowledge that you need to cook with, but if you’re not willing to put forth the effort to do so, you’re going to stay a cook,” Palazzola said. “You’re never going to be a chef.”

Missourian Features Editor Laura Miserez contributed to this story.